A Newcomer’s Guide to the Metroid Series

So you saw the E3 trailer for Metroid Dread and you’re interested in trying it out, but you’ve never played a Metroid game before. Allow me, a long-time Metroid fan, to help!

Metroid is one of Nintendo’s oldest and most important franchises. Among critics, it stands proudly on Nintendo’s podium of their best video game series, next to Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda. Look up reviews of Metroid Prime and Super Metroid, and you’ll often see heaps of praise. In fact, at the moment, Metroid Prime sits at #20 on Metacritic’s Best Video Games of All Time.

Unfortunately, the games have never sold super well. It’s been given this label as Nintendo’s “forgotten middle child.” The series enjoyed some brief time in the spotlight during the 2000s; however, the enthusiasm soon fizzled out with Nintendo’s mismanagement of the series. If you weren’t around during the era of the GameCube and the Game Boy Advance, then you likely only recognize Samus as that one character from Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. As an avid Metroid fan, one who has felt like the series is criminally overlooked, I’m very excited to see that Metroid Dread is generating some buzz. If we’re lucky, Metroid will finally get the sales recognition that it deserves.

If you’re a newcomer, you likely have a lot of questions about Metroid. Allow me to help, FAQ style:

Would I Like Metroid Games?

That depends on what games you like. In Metroid, you control the bounty hunter Samus. Like Mario and Link, she’s a blank slate, but that doesn’t mean she’s devoid of character entirely. Each game begins and ends with Samus exploring a large, interconnected world. However, unlike most open-world games, you can’t just go anywhere you want. Parts of the world are gated off. This means you’ll come across a few dead-ends as you explore, where only a specific item or power-up will allow you to progress. Think of each power-up as a kind of “key” that will help you unlock the “door” to new areas. It’s very satisfying to explore, acquire a new item, and realize, “Oh wait, I know where I can use that!” and overcome an obstacle that blocked your path earlier. A well-designed Metroid game makes landmarks stand out in your mind and rewards your spatial awareness. It’s genius game design.

Additionally, you can acquire pickups that make Samus stronger. At the beginning of a Metroid game, you may feel oppressed and out of your element. But by the end of a Metroid game, you are on a power trip, tearing through enemies that gave you trouble a few hours earlier. It’s so cathartic.

If you read the previous paragraphs and thought, “Hmm, that sounds like a scifi Zelda game,” you’re absolutely right! Zelda and Metroid have a lot in common. In fact, if you like the classic Zelda games, such as A Link to the Past or Ocarina of Time, then you’ll like Metroid.

Additionally, Metroid has inspired many indie game developers to make similar games. These have evolved into their own sub-genre called Metroidvanias. You’ve likely played some of these games, or have them in your backlog. If you like indie darlings such as Hollow Knight, Ori and the Blind Forest, Guacamelee, Cave Story, or Axiom Verge, then you’ll like Metroid.

Can I Play Metroid Dread as my First Metroid Game?

Yes. Judging from Nintendo’s E3 spotlight with Yoshio Sakamoto (the series creator), Metroid Dread will begin with a cutscene that will catch new players up with the story so far. Like most Nintendo games, the Metroid series tends to go light on plot, so Metroid Dread can definitely be your first one.

Where Would You Recommend I Start with the Series?

While you could start with Metroid Dread, I think it’s better if you familiarize yourself with at least one of the older Metroid games first. I think you’ll get more enjoyment out of Metroid Dread if you understand the basic lore and how the gameplay has evolved.

Unfortunately, Nintendo hasn’t been very good at offering all of the old Metroid games on current-gen hardware. If you really want to play all of them without emulating anything, then you’ll need a both a 3DS and a Wii U. However, with the exception of the 3DS game Samus Returns, all of the other 2D Metroid games are easy to emulate on basically any PC.

If you don’t want to emulate, then I’d recommend playing Super Metroid on the Nintendo Switch Online SNES app. It’s a masterpiece, and I’m a little jealous you get to play it for the first time. The controls are showing their age, and you may occasionally need a guide, but overall it holds up well. Super Metroid is the 3rd game in the story’s timeline, and it will catch you up on the events of Metroid I and II. After playing Super Metroid, you should watch a Let’s Play of Metroid Fusion. After that, you’ll have an adequate understanding of the plot before diving into Dread.

If you are okay with emulating, then I recommend you download the mGBA emulator, as you’ll need to use it to play two important games in the series. You’ll have to get the ROMS on your own, I’m afraid. But they’re not hard to find on the internet.

Regardless of how you acquire them, if you’re seeking to play the majority of the older Metroid games, then this is my recommended play order:

  1. Metroid: Zero Mission (GBA). This is Nintendo’s remake of the original Metroid. This is actually my favorite game in the series. And thanks to its slightly more linear structure, it’s approachable for beginners.
  2. AM2R or Metroid: Samus Returns (3DS). AM2R is a fan remake of Metroid II, and it plays very similar to Zero Mission. While Nintendo technically had the project shut down in 2016, the fans have kept the game alive and well. You can play it on PC. It’s a fantastic fan game that’s on par with Nintendo’s own quality. If you play AM2R, though, play on the Easy difficulty. It’s a tough game for a newcomer. Alternatively, you can play Samus Returns, which is Nintendo’s remake of the very same Metroid II. They released this game on the 3DS in October 2017. Samus Returns has lots of modern quality-of-life features that any newcomer would appreciate.
  3. Super Metroid (Switch). A quintessential masterpiece that inspired many an indie game.
  4. Metroid Fusion (GBA). This fourth installment takes some rather interesting twists on Super Metroid‘s formula. It controls very similar to Zero Mission. It’s a difficult game, and under no circumstances should it be your first one. However, if you follow this play-through order, you should be able to handle it as your 4th game.

After these 4 games, you’ll be 100% ready for Metroid Dread.

What About Metroid Prime?

Actually, Metroid Prime and its sequels tell their own self-contained story, separate from the rest of the Metroid timeline. It was developed by Retro Studios and released on the GameCube in 2002. It brought Metroid’s game design into 3D, using a First-Person perspective, and was the start of Metroid’s popularity in the early- to mid-2000s. On the surface, it looks like a scifi First-Person Shooter, which perhaps gives it the most “mainstream appeal” to Western gamers… although saying that feels a bit reductive.

Metroid Prime is a perfectly suitable starting point. In fact, it was my first Metroid game. However, these games will only familiarize you with Metroid Dread‘s basic lore. To make matters worse, you’ll need a Wii U in order to play any of the Prime games officially (or dig up the originals on GameCube / Wii). Of course, the Dolphin emulator can help solve that problem for you, but you’ll need a decently powerful PC in order to get the Prime games running properly.

What Do You Like About Metroid Games?

I’m glad you asked! The first reason is the compelling gameplay loop I’d mentioned before. I have two other big reasons of why it’s one of my favorite video game series:

  1. The Narrative Transport. Metroid games are exceptionally good at putting you into another time and place. Each game’s atmosphere is so thick, you can almost breathe it in. The rain falling, the mist rising, the blips and boops of corroded technology, the moody soundtrack, the bugs scattering on the floor… there’s nothing else like it. Not only that, the game design makes you recall specific rooms so that you return to them later when Samus is stronger. Put it all together, and the planets I’ve explored feel like real places that I’ve visited.
  2. Role-Playing as Samus. There’s something about Metroid gets me to connect with Samus. I can put myself into her role more than any other video game character — more than Link, more than Mario, more than any other avatar. The excitement of realizing I can unlock a new area, the trepidation of exploring, the relief of defeating an enemy… after I finish a Metroid game, I feel like I’ve truly accomplished something. I’ve completed an ordeal, acting as a person very different from myself.

And that’s it! I hope that helped you understand the Metroid series better. I’ll definitely be picking up Metroid Dread on Day 1 and try to get a review out as soon as possible.

2 thoughts on “A Newcomer’s Guide to the Metroid Series

  1. I’m so glad I still have my Wii U! I recently played through Zero Mission and I’m almost done with Fusion. I’ll probably also replay the Prime trilogy and Other M before Dread. Metroid marathon, here we go!

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